Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Public Opinion and Democracy.

There was a Telegraph article about how wrong public opinion can be and so on Twitter I made a comment about journalistic opinions and how these re also likely to be wrong which got  response that this Blog addresses. The Telegraph article is here.

Here is the tweet and the response that made me feel that I needed to post something longer.

  1. Quiz: A new survey shows the public knows little about key social issues such as crime and immigration. Do you?
  2. Journaists are commentators NOT decision makers or representatives! Private salaries NOT public purse

So reading Greg's bio he has some reason to be angry but he does not get the point. Public opinion is influenced by journalists. So if they have erroneous views then those views are propagated to the public and so public opinion is formed and is wrong. Politicians have always been aware of the weaknesses of public opinion and of democracy. This is why Churchill said,
"It is said that Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
It is also the reason why many politicians feel that Education is the key. The public need to be educated to have the right opinions. Now nobody says this too loudly especially amongst the socialists as it looks like elitism. Labour have always been sceptical of experts and the professions and they are sometimes right to be. Lawyers and Doctors often use their self-regulation to protect their own interests against the interests of the public. There will always be people who exploit any system for their own benefit.

Fundamentally public opinions should be based on evidence - you would not bet on a horse if you did not know anything about its form, or even if it was going to race. The problem with bad journalism is when it does not inform. This is when journalists and particularly publications follow their own agenda rather than presenting a balanced opinion.

Most of the main stream UK press is affected by this lack of balance, often because of the political leanings and agenda's of a proprietor. You know when you buy them what some of these agendas are. The Mail and the Telegraph are fairly far to the right because that is where the Barclays and Rothermeres want them. The Guardian and Mirror are both to the left because that is what their trusts wish to present. The Times is more moderately to the right. The FT favours the financial sector and unrestrained capitalism because that is its audience. The Sun swings around at the whim of its proprietor but always in a way that will best benefit his personal interests.

So the comment is wrong for these reasons.

  1. Journalists are not unbiased commentators they are opinionated and try to form public opinion. By doing this they seek to influence decision making.
  2. The public are the ultimate decision makers - we decide which bunch of policies we are prepared to live with. We cannot pick one policy at a time we have to pick the package represented by a party but that is how our democracy works.
  3. That journalists are paid by the private and not public purse is irrelevant and suggests that the author has not read the article or understood its content. There is nothing about the public paying for something or public officials. It is about the misinformed public making wrong decisions which is perfectly illustrated by the response.
This is why these shouty tweeters need to be responded to. As someone said the most dangerous people are those so ignorant that they don't know that they are ignorant.

1 comment:

Greg_L-W. said...


my point was simply that journalists are answerable to private money and produce what is wanted by their employers NOT by the public - hence such as The Guardian takes a biased line3 as its owners are happy to lose £Millions a year, to make their clearly unpopular point!

Politicians have a duty to be accurate - a duty to the public purse NOT a private employer.

As for the democracy, there is none any more as ALL law is and must be compliant with our supreme court The EU and our real governance is conducted without meaningful democracy in the EU where are laws and regulations are made yet we have less than 8% say.

That our domestic politicians are ether ignorant of these facts or unwilling to broadcast these facts renders them almost to a man ill informed or corrupt.